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Fri Mar 13, 2015, 08:37 AM

The National Security Elites Are Co-Opting Democracy

The National Security Elites Are Co-Opting Democracy

Thursday, 12 March 2015 00:00
By Scott Horton, Nation Books | Book Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from the prologue to Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare by Scott Horton:

A fundamental concept underlying the American Constitution is the delicate rapport established between Congress and the various agencies of the executive. The massive government apparatus, including the ballooning intelligence community, is controlled by the executive. Yet the individual agencies, including the CIA - called into existence and defined by acts of Congress - operate using money that Congress gives them, subject to any limitations Congress may apply. The legislative branch exercises specific powers of oversight and inquiry into the work of agencies of the executive, including the right to conduct investigations, to require documents to be produced and employees of the government to appear and testify before it, and to issue reports with its findings and conclusions.

Throughout history executives have used the administration of justice as a tool to intimidate and pressure legislators. To protect legislators against this sort of abuse, the Constitution's speech and debate clause provides a limited form of immunity for members of Congress. The Supreme Court has confirmed that this immunity extends to congressional staffers, such as Senate committee staffers, when they are supporting the work of their employers, and protects them against charges of mishandling classified information.

Feinstein's suggestion that CIA activities had violated the Constitution and several federal statutes was on point. Eatinger's decision to refer allegations against committee staffers to the Justice Department also reflected an amazing lack of understanding of the Constitution and the respective roles of the two institutions. And so did Brennan's public statements. Brennan first pushed back against Feinstein's account, strongly suggesting it would be proven inaccurate: "As far as the allegations of CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that. That's just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do." He also suggested that the Justice Department would be the arbiter of the dispute between the CIA and the Senate: "There are appropriate authorities right now both inside of CIA, as well as outside of CIA, who are looking at what CIA officers, as well as SSCI staff members did. And I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law."

This formulation was of course nonsense - the CIA had turned to the Justice Department as a dependable ally, not as an independent fact finder. The department was the second government agency likely to be excoriated by the report. Its national security division, to which Eatinger had turned, was little more than the CIA's outside law firm. ................(more)


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